Before his death, The Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garcia tried to clean himself up after years of cocaine and other drugs, so he gifted a marijuana pipe to a fellow musician who took it to his San Francisco home.
About 31 years later, the handmade pipe resurfaced in a Marin County antique store, whose owner considers it a unique rock ‘n’ roll artifact.
“My shop is fun and a lot of fun stuff comes through the door,” Steve Cabella, owner of Modern i Shop in San Anselmo, told The Times. “But when it came through the door, it was just one of the most interesting things that came through that door.”
Cabella declined to say if the pipe will be displayed in his shop, only that he hopes to donate it to a museum.
Few people would be surprised to learn that the guitarist of the eclectic Californian rock band got high or owned a pipe. With his bird’s nest beard and glasses, Garcia captivated legions of fans with his mix of blues, folk and psychedelic rock while performing with the Grateful Dead. But in 1985, Garcia was arrested in San Francisco for using cocaine in his car.
In an effort to get clean, Garcia decided to donate his potty pipe. According to Cabella, the pipe was created and donated by Owsley “Bear” Stanley, the band’s sound engineer and reputedly one of the first people to mass-produce large quantities of LSD in the 1960s.
In many ways, the pipe could be considered a relic of the psychedelic rock era, but Cabella said he doesn’t plan to sell the pipe or even smoke it. He considers it an artifact, which extends beyond the history of drug paraphernalia.
The Grateful Dead had legions of dedicated fans, known as Deadheads, who followed the band on their world tour. Auction house Sotheby’s appealed to those enthusiasts last year when it auctioned off musical instruments, gear, clothing, concert posters, guitars and other band memorabilia.
The pipe – made of bone and leather – was last seen after longtime collaborator and keyboardist Merl Saunders and Garcia worked on the “Blues From the Rainforest” album in 1991, according to Cabella. Garcia stored the smoking pipe at Saunders in San Francisco while the two recorded the album, the family told Cabella. Then it was completely forgotten.
The store owner did not reveal how much he paid for the pipe, saying only that it was several months out of his budget to buy goods and in the “small thousands”.
The pipe features a sculpture from Garcia’s 1978 solo album “Cats Under the Stars” and a second sculpture of a tiger. Cabella believes the pipe predates one of Garcia’s custom guitars which he named “tiger” and adds another notch to the pipe’s place in music history.
“owsley [Stanley] had many image sources that he used on the [pipe]”, said Cabella. “So he gives the name to Jerry and Jerry is so interested that he names his guitar tiger.”
Stanley picked up his skills in making jewelry and other crafts at a prison hobby store during a three-year prison sentence following a police raid on his LSD lab in Orinda , California, according to Tim Scully, who traveled with the Grateful Dead as the band’s electronic designer.
“Bear wanted to be known more for being an artist than for being an LSD maker,” Scully wrote in an email to The Times.
But Stanley’s son Starfinder questions whether his father made the pipe, saying it shares no similarity with Stanley’s work, which was of higher quality.
“Bear made carved hash pipes in prison and afterwards, but all of his carvings were very distinctive, and it looks nothing like his work,” Starfinder Stanley wrote in an email.
Starfinder Stanley said Cabella’s claim that Stanley made the pipe was purely fabricated to increase the value of the item.
In response, Cabella said that if it wasn’t for Stanley, then who would have done Garcia the pipe?
“It must be Owsley, historically speaking,” Cabella said in a text message.
Stanley not only influenced Garcia later in the band’s career, but he also financed the band and designed its “Wall of Sound”, a veritable wall of speakers that accompanied the band’s live sets in 1973. He would go on to building up a huge archive of live sessions from many of the bands he has mixed sound for over the years.
Born Augustus Owsley Stanley III in Kentucky on January 19, 1935, he was the grandson of a Kentucky governor and the son of a naval commander.
Dubbed the “King of Acid” by the media, Stanley was immortalized in Tom Wolfe’s book “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test”. The non-fiction work detailed a series of parties thrown by author Ken Kesey and his band of Merry Pranksters, who came to embody a louder and more dynamic sect of the beat generation that used LSD supplied by Stanley. .
More than 30 years after the pipe was last seen, it reappeared when Saunders’ family was cleaning out their San Francisco home. The pipe was in an envelope dated 1985 in a hidden bed built into a wall, Cabella said.
Although Garcia offered the pipe to Saunders, the keyboardist did not use drugs and hid the pipe. When reached by phone, Saunders’ son declined to comment.
When Garcia died in 1995 at the age of 53, he was staying in a rehabilitation center trying to shake off his years of drug addiction. His death reverberated through generations of music fans. At the time, President Bill Clinton told MTV that he and his 15-year-old daughter, Chelsea, were fans of the Grateful Dead.
Stanley died in 2011 after having a car accident while driving in a storm near the town of Mareeba, Australia.
Los Angeles Times